Air New Zealand pioneering in MRO market through extended 3D printing venture

In the past, Air New Zealand has employed 3D printing technology for a range of applications. The airline first began its foray into the additive manufacturing business in 2016, when it worked with Auckland University of Technology to manufacture the fold-down cocktail trays that form part of its award winning Business Premier seat.

A big advantage of 3D printing is that it allows the airline to make cost-effective lightweight parts, and to do so quickly without compromising on safety, strength or durability. Airlines can’t hold stock of every replacement part required, and so the ability to use additive manufacturing can be key to the delivery of a timely replacement part.

In its most recent venture, Air New Zealand has partnered with the New Zealand-based company Zenith Tecnica in a joint investigation of 3D printed metal parts for both aircraft and tools. Zenith particularly specialises in the design and manufacture of 3D printed titanium and other metals using a technology called electron beam melting (EBM) – with the machines manufactured by Arcam EBM, a GE Additive company.

According to Arcam’s official website, the machines use a high power electron beam that generates the energy needed for high melting capacity. The electron beam is managed by electromagnetic coils that provide extremely fast and accurate beam control, which allows several melt pools to be maintained simultaneously. The process takes place in a vacuum and at high temperature, resulting in stress-relieved components with material properties better than cast and comparable to wrought material.

Air New Zealand chief operations officer Bruce Parton emphasises that the airline is committed to innovation through 3D printing with new materials. “While we are in the initial stages of working with these companies on 3D printing, so far, we have printed prototype metal framing for our Business Premier cabin, to quickly test new concepts and ideas and we have also made novelty wine aerators.”

Mr Parton states that while the aerators, made to look like replica aircraft engines, are just a “bit of fun”, the real value is the possibility they represent for the airline as a cost and space effective MRO/aerospace tool.

Air New Zealand MRO, according to CAPA’s MRO Matrix

In Apr-2018, CAPA – Centre for Aviation introduced its Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) Matrix product. The Matrix contains numerous unique features, with updates delivered daily in real time. It offers information on over 6000 contracts across 53 contract types, instead of just letter checks, along with completed historic contracts.

The Matrix offers a range of MRO categories for both third party MRO companies and OEMs. Focusing on just the airframe capabilities of Air New Zealand MRO (the Matrix also offers insight on APU, component, engines and miscellaneous capabilities), it can be extrapolated that the company’s competencies include a range of aircraft:

TABLE – Aircraft capabilities grid for Air New Zealand MRO

As shown above, Air New Zealand MRO can operate on a range of aircraft and is particularly prevalent in the partial MRO market for airframes, along with a proficiency for Airbus aircraft and widebody Boeings for line/overnight/per cycle maintenance.

With Air New Zealand’s most recent additive venture with Zenith, the company’s MRO subsidiary may be positioned to win some lucrative, time sensitive MRO contracts in the future – if it can 3D print airframe components under regulatory constraints in a reasonable timeframe.

Air New Zealand, Chief Revenue Officer, Cam Wallace and Air New Zealand, Group General Manager Airports, Roger Gray are CAPA’s latest speaker additions for the upcoming New Zealand Aviation & Corporate Travel Summit (17-18 Oct, Auckland). For more information or to register for the Summit visit https://akl18.capaevents.com